American Fashion: The Tirocchi sisters in Context


Jessie Franklin Turner, who worked for Bonwit Teller in the custom salon from 1916 to 1922, established her own couture business, which was successful for many years even though she did not advertise conspicuously. In her early career she also designed under the name "Winifred Warren, Inc."(42) Another important factor in American fashion during the 1910s and early 1920s was Lucile, an English import via Paris. When she opened her New York house in the early 1910s, she established her reputation by dressing young ballroom dancer Irene Castle, an important style model for many young women at the time. During World War I, she was a leader in encouraging American silk manufacturers to produce better-designed goods and often used American-made silks in her work. In the Tirocchi Archive is an invitation from Lucile Ltd. to view a special "exhibition for dressmakers" from March 9 to 15, probably in 1916, although no year is mentioned. The invitation specified that this would be a "unique" event, "planned and carried out solely because of the present chaotic conditions in the world of fashion due to the war," and would show models "mostly of American-made goods" in aid of the "Made-in-America" movement.(43) She also hired American design talent and purchased sketches from free-lance designers. Howard Greer, later an important figure in Hollywood and Seventh Avenue fashion, spent a brief period as an employee of Lucile.(44)

Old newspapers and trade journals tantalize with names seemingly once well known, but no longer familiar. Ethel Traphagen won first prize for her entries in the 1912-13 New York Times competition to encourage American "style creators" and went on to run an important New York school for fashion design. Mollie O'Hara, another name from the 1910s and 20s, was influential enough in the custom field to have had a fabric named after her by H. R. Mallinson & Company: "Molly-O crepe." Another dressmaker, Marguerite (also called Madame Margé), who thrived between the wars in New York and Chicago, is documented in the Special Collections Library at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. There are scrapbooks of sketches from the 1920s embellished with trim samples [fig. 87] and newspaper clippings from 1937 discussing her success with a line using Indonesian batik fabrics. Her name appeared often in the American Silk Journal in the 1910s, when her work was featured for its use of American silks. Three times between 1915 and 1918 she won the Gossard Trophy for excellence in dress design from the Fashion Art League of America. H. R. Mallinson's Blue Book of Silks from 1921 displays photographs of Margé models made in Mallinson silks. She seems to have managed to run a successful business between the 1910s and late 1930s and was listed as a customer in the records of Soieries F. Ducharne for the early 1930s, yet her name never appears in Vogue or Harper's Bazaar, nor has her story been published.(45) There were probably dozens of women like her, successful to varying degrees, who survived primarily through word of mouth, as the Tirocchi sisters did, and who in fact preferred to keep a low profile and an exclusive clientele.



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